By Aidan Elder | Tottenham v Arsenal
He’s nothing if not confident. And fond of snazzy trench coats.
After Tottenham edged past West Ham on Monday night, Andre Villas-Boas was asked if he thought catching up with Manchester City to claim second in the Premier League was beyond his team. The brain clicked into gear, he did the calculations and decided not to dismiss the notion.
The gap is five points, but with Gareth Bale running rings around the league’s defenders, anything looks possible. The priority is keeping Chelsea and Arsenal at bay to keep third, but the fact AVB entertained the question and was even considering the chance of being the closest graspers of Manchester United’s coat-tails says a lot about how far Spurs have come under his management.
It’s an odd feeling because this is the part of the season when we expect to see a collapse from Spurs. Like the tides, the sun rising every day or Jennifer Anniston’s latest attempt to find ‘true love’ going tits up, it feels like one of those perennial certainties in life. But do they deserve the reputation of stumbling down the stretch? The Paddy Power Blog has flicked the pages of the history books to look at how Spurs have done in the league from March onwards over the last ten seasons.
The short answer is yes, Tottenham are a bit chokey over the closing stretch. In six of the last ten seasons, their average points per game (PPG) haul was bigger between August and February than what they managed from March onwards. But it doesn’t take a fake degree in Mathematics from the University of Make Your Cheque Payable To … to realise that leaves four seasons in which their form in the closing weeks was better than what preceded it.
Twelve months ago Harry Redknapp’s presumed procession to the position of England manager was blamed as the reason for something of a collapse. Well, it’s a nicer story than saying ‘we were just a bit crap’.
Before March came around, Tottenham were merrily claiming an average of 2.04 PPG and eyeing third place in the table. But in the closing weeks, that figure slumped to 1.33 PPG and at one point we were contemplating the prospect of Alan Pardew’s ego getting even bigger thanks to getting Newcastle into the Champions League.
Spurs held on for fourth, but Chelsea’s fluking of the Champions League denied them the place in the Champions League they probably deserved. A stronger closing stretch would have seen them claim third and have them laughing at Arsenal’s misfortune instead.
It was a similar story the year before, albeit without the chance to blame the distraction of the England manager’s job. Going in to March Spurs had amassed 47 points and were sat in fifth pace, three points of City in third with a game in hand.
In classic Tottenham style they managed to cock it right up, winning just three of the next 11 games and dropping points against Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool. Tottenham fans will tell you it is because they were concentrating on a Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid. But that clearly didn’t work as they got thumped 5-0 on aggregate. Spurs finished the season fifth in the league, six points behind Arsenal and nine behind third. How different it could have been.
Will Tottenham choke again this year? It all starts this Sunday with a North London derby and Spurs are favourites at 13/10. With just 11 games remaining AVB’s men are 1/2 to finish in the top four, but a bad result on Sunday could make the 6/4 that they finish outside the Champions League spots very appealing. Nobody knows bottling a four point advantage like Tottenham Hotspur.